It’s not easy for most people to study. It’s even more challenging for those with ADHD, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. ADHD brings an extra layer of complexity, with heightened hyperactivity levels and diminished ability to focus on a single task. But fear not, as there are effective strategies that can help both adults and children with ADHD excel in their study efforts. Let’s explore these techniques, supported by real-life anecdotes, to make studying more manageable.
ADHD involves difficulties in sustaining attention—unless they are working on something that interests them— and managing executive functions, making studying a complex task. Our kids often find it challenging to focus on their homework amid the distractions of their surroundings, whether it is a noisy home or a cluttered workspace. This difficulty arises from impaired executive functions, which are essential for studying.
These strategies can make studying less of a challenge:
1. Create a Distraction-Free Zone
Most of us are easily distracted these days. With the ever-present phones, apps, texts, and emails, there is always something for us to pay attention to. Distractions are the nemesis of effective study, and those with ADHD are particularly susceptible. Consider a dedicated minimalist study space equipped only with a desk, a computer for homework, and a clock that allows you to set timers. The fewer distractions present, the easier it is to concentrate.
2. Prioritize One Task at a Time
Switching between tasks can be daunting for anyone, but it’s an even more significant challenge for individuals with ADHD. It’s also hard for them to prioritize, so you may have to help with that. One good tip is to cover everything in the homework except the actual problem they are going to do. My clients do better when they commit to a single task until completion or for a set amount of time. This approach reduces mental strain and enhances productivity.
3. Implement Strategic Breaks
Short attention spans call for a unique study schedule. John, a student with ADHD, discovered that alternating 10-minute work intervals with 10-20-minute breaks was highly effective. These breaks can be productive; they provide an opportunity for a quick chore, exercise, or a brief social interaction. But for many kids, working for 20 minutes and then taking a 5-minute break works better because a long break means their brain has to “start” again, and for many kids with ADHD, starting a task is really hard. So, you need to try different strategies to find what works for your child.
4. Avoid Last-Minute Rushes
Procrastination is so real for our kids with ADHD, and it’s the enemy of quality work. Because task initiation can be hard, procrastination is common with ADHD. Unfortunately, that comes with being overwhelmed from getting behind or just not knowing where and how to start. It's really helpful to break projects down into manageable chunks. Look ahead in your schedule and begin working on papers and studying for tests well in advance. You can even assign dates to bite-size tasks like taking notes or creating a title page. Avoid the temptation to cram the night before.
Exercise can help to bleed off some of the excess energy that can make it hard to sit still and get to work. It is a great remedy for a variety of ailments. Regular physical activity can significantly boost focus and study capabilities. And beyond that, it can improve your mood and mental health.
6. Try taking a nap
Naps are a wonderful tool for some but seem to help others very little. Again, experiment and see what works for you. Try short naps, long naps, and everything in between. A little sleep can reset your brain in a way that simply relaxing cannot.
7. Schedule study time
Have a schedule that you stick to. A routine can be highly beneficial and ensure you don’t fall behind. A consistent schedule can offer stability in the chaos of ADHD; it also minimizes anxiety because you’re not agonizing over what to do when. Catching up is always challenging, especially for someone with an attention disorder or anxiety.
8. Get Accommodations
Schools are required to provide support for students with ADHD. Your school might have accommodations for students with learning challenges. You might be entitled to free tutors, altered testing conditions such as a private room, or additional time for tests. This is true from elementary school to college. You’ll never know if you don’t ask. There’s nothing to lose.
9. Try Mindfulness
Sarah, one of my college-age clients, did not think she could or would meditate or do breathwork. But she ended up finding solace and calm in mindfulness techniques. Mindful breathing exercises and meditation helped her stay focused and reduce stress. Additionally, she used digital organizational tools to structure her tasks, deadlines, and assignments, aiding her executive functions.
10. Get Help
This can come in the use of medications, psychiatrists, or an ADHD coach (like me!). The right meds and a professional with the right fit for you can offer a substantial difference in managing executive functions, emotions, and self-esteem.
If you or someone you care about is grappling with ADHD and struggling to study effectively, you know how challenging it can be to sit down, focus, and study! Studying with ADHD may pose challenges, but with the right strategies, that can change. Experiment with these approaches, adapt them to your unique needs and maintain an open mind. Your ideal solution may be closer than you think.